YIKES! I've got a PHONE interview. What now?

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Congrats! You worked hard on your employment search, and now you've secured a phone interview. But what does this mean, and how should you proceed?

Many companies use phone interviews because it saves them time and money. Instead of bringing you in, they chat with you for awhile to size up whether or not it would make sense for them to invest more time in you. Essentially, view the phone interview as a screening step before an in-person interview.

Most likely the phone interview will be scheduled in advance, but it's also possible the human resource (HR) person will pick up the phone and request an on-the-spot conversation.  As soon as you make your phone number available to companies in your job search, be prepared for this possibility. Of course, if a potential employer reaches you at an inconvenient time, it's fine to politely explain that you'd like to call him/her back.  However, make sure to call back promptly. Also, the phone interview is likely to be conducted by the HR person, and NOT the person for whom you'd work. (Always find out who will be interviewing you, and get the correct spelling and pronunciation of his/her name.) This can mean that the HR person isn't as familiar with the specific job you'd be assigned, and he/she may be perfunctory in his/her manner. Don't be put off by this. Keep in mind that the primary goal of the HR person is to narrow the pool of potential interviewees, which is at odds with your goal: to move to the next round. By planning ahead, you can persuasively build the case for why you should be selected for an in-person interview.

The first step in planning is arranging the setting for the phone interview. Find a place where your cell phone coverage is reliable and clear, and there is no distracting noise. Set your documents (résumé, cover letter, notes) on a desk in front of you because you can use these as you speak. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes.  Although it may seem silly, it's a good idea to dress in something more professional--not just your pajamas. When you feel crisp and put together, your voice will sound more confident and mature. Also, smile when you speak. This gives your voice a positive tone and shows more energy. You may even want to stand as you speak to avoid sounding lackluster. Some interviewees have even found it beneficial to have a mirror in front of them, so they are more aware of their physical cues to their communications.
As the questions begin, avoid interrupting your interviewer. Be patient and listen to the whole question. Pausing is fine too. In fact, it's much better than filling silences with "um" or "like."  If you don't understand a question, ask for clarification. Don't ramble, be concise, but allow enough detail to be credible. For example, if the interviewer asks you, "tell me about a time you had to work in a team," make sure to select a specific instance and bring out the points you want to make about why he/she should select you. View every question as some form of "why should we hire you?"
As the interview progresses, keep an eye on the time. Make sure to get responses to your questions too. The best interviews are dialogues not monologues. Show your genuine interest and knowledge of the company through each response.  When the interview is coming to a close, make sure you understand the employer's next step in the decision-making process. And always write a thank-you note to your interviewer within two to three days after the conversation. Phone interviews don't have to be your downfall if you give them the same attention you'd give an in-person interview. They can be the light guiding you toward employment success!

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